RANGERS avoided another calamitous early cup exit and booked their first trip to Hampden in nearly two years tonight with an assured display against opponents who travelled to Ibrox fresh from a win over Celtic and hopeful of pulling off an upset.

It took Connor Goldson and his team mates some time to wear down David Martindale’s side and secure a place in the semi-finals. Their inability to capitalise on the scoring opportunities they created in the first-half will once again have frustrated their manager Steven Gerrard.

But the final outcome was never in any serious doubt – Jon McLaughlin did not have a save of note to make all evening - and second-half strikes from Kemar Roofe and Alfredo Morelos ensured the Scottish champions got their just rewards for their efforts during the course of the 90 minutes.

Rangers’ play in the 2021/22 campaign has often, even though they moved a point clear at the top of the cinch Premiership table on Sunday, lacked the same spark as last term. There remains scope for improvement, not least in attack. But this comfortable and deserved win was a definite step in the right direction.

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Gerrard, who made wholesale changes to his starting line-up after the disappointing 1-1 draw with Motherwell at home in the league at weekend, is desperate to win a cup competition this season after six failed attempts. That his team are now just two games away from doing so is progress of sorts. 

Livingston, who reached the final of this competition last year, were on a high going into the quarter-final tie having beaten Celtic 1-0 at the Tony Macaroni Arena on Sunday. They competed well in the opening 45 minutes. But they could have no complaints about the final scoreline. The margin of their defeat could and should have been greater.

The Herald:

Nathan Patterson made his first appearance for Rangers since starring for Scotland in their Qatar 2022 qualifier against Moldova at Hampden earlier this month. The 20-year-old, who replaced his captain James Tavernier at right back, showed he had recovered from the ankle injury he had picked up on international duty, with a searing break into the visitors’ half in the very first minute.

He was unfortunate not to open the scoring six minutes later after playing a deft one-two with Morelos in the opposition area. Livingston goalkeeper Max Stryjek did well to race off his line and deny the defender. But it was an encouraging start for the home supporters.

Tavernier has been a key man for Rangers going forward for several seasons. But his young understudy is no slouch in attack himself. The calls for him to feature more regularly in the first team are unlikely to abate any time soon after another bright performance.    

Morelos failed to get on the end of a Calvin Bassey cross, Scott Wright fired wide from long-range and then came agonisingly close to getting on the end of a Connor Goldson pass with just Strykjek to beat and Joe Aribo dithered and gave away possession after being supplied by Roofe in a dangerous area.

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There was no shortage of invention in Rangers’ play in the final third. But once again they were lacking a ruthlessness in front of goal. It had led to them dropping two points three days earlier. Would it cost them dear again?    

McLaughlin, given the nod ahead of Allan McGregor for the evening, went untested in the Rangers goal. Still, Livingston applied their fair share of pressure to their hosts’ rearguard too. They looked more than capable of snatching the lead.

Bassey should really have broken the deadlock after 25 minutes when Goldson picked him out with a long diagonal ball upfield. The left back well to bring the ball down, cut inside Nicky Devlin and Ayo Obileye and get into the centre of the penalty box. But he then shelled his shot high over the crossbar.

Morelos got an attempt on target 10 minutes after that spurned opportunity when Wright sliced open the Livingston defence with a through ball. However, Devlin reacted quickly and prevented his team falling behind with a vital block. The teams were level as they left the field at half-time.

Gerrard clearly felt he needed to inject a little freshness into Rangers’ play going forward. He introduced Hagi for Wright at the start of the second-half. It was the first time the playmaker, who tested positive for Covid after representing Romania earlier this month, had been sighted since the second leg of the Europa League play-off match against Alashkert in Armenia last month.

But Hagi showed no rustiness and made an immediate impact. Just three minutes after taking to the field he received the ball from Roofe in the Livingston penalty box. He advanced and squared it back to his team mate. The forward buried the pass high into the roof of the net to the delight and relief of the 35,779-strong crowd.

Only the brilliance of Stryjek prevented the home team from adding to their tally. He palmed a Morelos shot over his crossbar after the striker had pinched the ball off Stephane Omeonga and then denied Roofe with his outstretched left leg.

The Pole, though, was directly to blame for the second Rangers goal in the 63rd minute. His slack clearance to James Penrice was intercepted by Morelos and the little Colombian grateful accepted the gift he had been presented with. He is now just two shy of the 100 mark for the Glasgow giants.